Violating the then building rules, Rajuk in December 1996 approved an 18-storey high-rise in Banani, where the FR Tower stands today.
Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), the city development regulator, approved the building under the 1984 rules that had already been replaced by the new rules of 1996, said a member of the eight-member probe committee, which was formed by the public works ministry, wishing anonymity.
SMHI Faruque, the owner of plot no-32 where FR Tower stands, applied for a building approval in January 1996 with a building plan prepared in accordance with the building rules of 1984.
The Building Construction (BC) committee, which approves a building plan, required corrections to the plan submitted.
Meanwhile, by the time the corrections were made and approved, new building rules came into effect in July 1996.
The rules required 2.5 metres open space on two sides and in the rear and safety preconditions of a building, he said.
The corrected plan was, however, approved in December 1996, as per the old rules which lacked preconditions for open space and some safety features of a building, the member said.
Contacted, former Rajuk chairman Md Nurul Huda said, “Once new rules are in place, the BC committee does not have the authority to approve a building plan under old rules.”
Citing some relevant documents, the committee member said the then BC committee authorised officer Mokbul Ahmed had expressed reservation in approving the plan made under rules that no longer applied, he said.
Following instructions of the then Rajuk chairman Humayun Khadem, Mokbul gave in and approved the plan under the old rules, the committee member said citing documents.
Humayun Khadem went into retirement more than 20 years ago.
Contacted for a response, Raiyan Khadem, son of Humayun Khadem, said his father was more than 80 years old, terminally ill and bed-ridden.
“He is suffering from dementia and Parkinson's disease,” said Raiyan, adding, “He cannot speak, nor recognise people.”
Meanwhile, landowner Faruque in 2003 struck a deal with private real estate developer Rupayan Housing Estate Ltd to develop the property.
Eight years after the approval of the building, Rupayan built the 23-storey commercial Faruque-Rupayan Tower on plot no-32 claiming to have obtained a new approval on 23 February 2005 with a Rajuk memo no-R3C/ 1524/ 04/271.
The public works ministry's probe committee member, however, said they had not yet received any official documents from Rajuk in this regard but they would scrutinise the approval document circulated by the developer in a day or two.
Md Yakub Ali Patwary, additional secretary to the public works ministry and head of the probe committee, said, “We are working. Wait for two or three days [and] you will then know whether the claimed 23-storey building approval is authentic or not.”
Public works minister SM Rezaul Karim, at a meet-the-press in the capital on Saturday, said Rajuk knew that FR Tower was constructed having illegal floors and in deviations from the approved plan back in 2007, but they turned a blind eye to it and remained silent.
It was the unbridled greed of the building owners, developer and Rajuk officials that led to the devastating March 28 fire in FR Tower where at least 26 people died, the minister said.
IT WAS TO BE A MOSTLY RESIDENTIAL BUILDING
The 18-storey building that Rajuk approved in December 1996 had only first two floors for commercial use with the rest being residential, said the probe committee member.
But the builder made the tower in total deviation from the original approval and put a new building in place.
He said the FR Tower's original file, that was assumed to be missing, had been found and it would help prove the actual legal status of the building.
He said they were looking into other claimed Rajuk memo numbers in this regard.
Meanwhile, some documents obtained by this paper show that the landowner SMHI Faruque in January and May 2009 wrote to the Rajuk chairman complaining that Rupayan had built four illegal floors beyond the approved plan as seen in the Rajuk memo no-estate/Mohakhali/3330 dated 22 September 2007.
Some other documents provided by Sameed Quasem, son of Tasvir Ul Islam, who purchased the top three floors of the building, show that the then Rajuk Authorised Officer Syed Nazmul Huda signed the approval for the 23-storey citing a decision made by the BC committee in its 44th meeting on 15 February, 2005.
Police arrested Tasvir and Faruque following a case filed in connection with the devastating FR Tower fire.
The case also mentions the chairman of Rupayan Group, the builder company.